Ireland youngsters in spotlight

New breed can stake Kiwis claim with solid Samoa show

Eric Miller

I get the feeling that the past few weeks has been a tough time for all those involved in the professional game at Lansdowne Road. Hard lessons have been learned all round, no doubt.

In saying that, I hope that the IRFU has the good sense to fill some of the vacant seats with plenty of enthusiastic school-goers for free in the coming weeks to fill the void and elevate the much-needed atmosphere for the upcoming games.

The more pertinent lessons must make this Irish squad better after the body blow it has just received against the Sprinboks. The squad and management have all held their hands up, but I believe that the team won't be pressing any panic buttons at this stage.

It's understandable, from a coaching perspective, that one can get so caught up in trying to implement the progressive changes to Ireland's style and take the eye off the small but crucial details.

I cannot say for sure if Declan Kidney has had a similar view of this process, but I admire him for coming out and putting his hand up for not considering all the permutations and tactics relative to the weather conditions that we witnessed on Saturday.

Many will point to the obvious -- why was the potential for inclement weather not factored in? However, Kidney has shown a high level of humility and culpability for what transpired, and it's something that those with high responsibility in office and other walks of life in this country should take note of.

In that sense, I think things will come good for Kidney and this Irish team in the near future.

The poor performance last Saturday has put the fixture against Samoa tomorrow afternoon more in to the spotlight.

The likes of Devin Toner, Sean O'Brien and Sean Cronin in particular will have compelling cases for inclusion for the following week against the All Blacks should everything go to plan.

The younger folk would have no doubt elevated the atmosphere at training this week. With the added incentive that positions are perceived to be more up for grabs, it should bring the best out of those who have the ability to step up to the plate.

For the half-backs many would see this as a big opportunity, considering the impact that both had in the latter stages of last week's game, but I am not so sure.

Sooner or later Kidney will have to pitch for Jonathan Sexton or Ronan O'Gara on a more consistent basis and in last week's selection you got the feeling that he is starting to lean more in Sexton's direction. In that light, I feel regardless of how O'Gara performs, Kidney may well give Sexton and Eoin Reddan another crack next week considering the lack of quality ball they received last week.

In saying that, they too, like most of the team, had an off day. Despite the bar of soap football played the last day out, one can only envisage that Ireland can only maximise their attacking prowess with Sexton playing at number 10.

However, he does have a lot to learn about playing the conditions and regardless of the lack of a Plan B for last week's game, if O'Gara had been introduced earlier he may well have had the experience to change tactics on the hoof which may have given Ireland a better foothold.


O'Gara has his many strengths and if the conditions in New Zealand next year are anything like what we have witnessed he could yet have a vital role to play.

Samoa will provide a stern test, but inclusion of some of Ireland's heavy hitters in the starting line-up demonstrates how seriously all involved are taking this game.

A win with a performance of direction and purpose will suffice -- the size of the scoreline is not a factor.

A major confidence boost is needed before the All Blacks, which will still be a titanic confrontation.

First things first, though, a win tomorrow with some young guys coming of age is the order of the day.